The Bristol Hippodrome, November & December 2006
Early starts, multiple shows, random encounters and amusing exchanges...even when we weren't at the actual show, we still were at the stage door of the Bristol Hippodrome for these funny and fantastical winter theatre trips. This was the stage door where Dean Maynard said 'You know who's playing Mistoffelees tonight, don't you?' and then stood back and watched as chaos ensued...In Bristol, we were lucky enough to take in not one, not two, but three performances of the show, and a lot of our time before and after those shows was spent waiting excitedly at the stage door of the Bristol Hippodrome. Given the huge build-up we had had for the trip, the whole thing was planned like some sort of military operation, and the show did not disappoint and neither did the cast.
Our first trip to Bristol was November 25th, with tickets booked for the matinee and the evening show. Bristol being such a long drive away from Stoke, we were fully prepared for an early start, but neither of us was able to stop talking long enough to actually get a good night's sleep! Still, we woke up at 6.30 that morning as planned and threw ourselves into preparation more or less immediately. My bedroom was turned into HQ; we had pre-planned outfits to pack and change into and perfect, we had drawings and gifts to remember to pack and we had an overnight stay to pack for as well. We were ridiculously hyped, but by the time we reached the car we were shattered and we slept for most of the first half of the drive. Before we knew it, though, our excitement had kicked back in, and we were arriving in Bristol. We drove past one advert for Cats and that was it - all thoughts of tiredness were forgotten! We arrived in very good time for the matinee. We set about unpacking everything we would need for the evening show so that we would be able to make a quick turnaround time between leaving the stage door after the matinee and getting back there in time for a quick bit of pre-evening stage dooring too - and of course make it on time for the show itself! So we settled in, messed around, laughed, and then went to see if my dad was ready to walk with us down to the theatre. Which he was. So down to the theatre we walked and, when my dad was confident we were no longer in danger of getting lost, he went off in search of coffee whilst we waited around outside stage door for people to start arriving.
My memories of this get a bit hazy here, but I remember talking to someone before the matinee who broke the news to me that Kevin had injured his knee when the tour was in Portugal and he hadn't yet returned to the show. It was either Dean or John who broke the news, and I can't for the life of me remember which one of them it was. But I do remember definitely being comforted by John about it. He assured me that it wasn't the same without Kevin before saying he thought he would definitely be back by our next trip on December 9th. He told me that he would tell Kevin he'd missed us and that we were coming back soon and I gave him a gift to pass on to Kevin later.
We were cheered up by a succession of familiar faces; Dean Maynard, Chris Howell and, of course, Alex Durrant, who all remembered us and all bid us warm hellos - even Alex, despite him being out ill/injured that day. And he wasn't the only missing person. As well as Kevin and Alex, Trevor Schoonraad (Quaxo/Mistoffelees) and Zoë Curlett (Jellylorum) were both also out and, before the end of the day, Chris Howell was forced to drop out too with a sore throat. Things were so bad that the tour had had to temporarily draft in someone who had done the European tour of Cats to cover Mistoffelees for a few weeks. The poor man couldn't speak a word of English, was known to most of the cast as 'that Spanish guy' and he had to have most of his lines sung by Dean Maynard in order to make it through the show. He did a brilliant job under the circumstances and I have never forgotten what a wild situation it all was. All this was told to us by the pretty-much-never-ill Dean (so I assume it was him who told us about Kevin too and fetched down the already-in-make-up John for us...) and he said his secret to surviving the cast's current run of bad luck on the injury/illness front was First Defence spray - we just decided he was indestructable! Still, even in the knowledge that half the cast were absent - including some of our favourites - we were incredibly excited for the show and now that we knew that at least some of the cast who knew us knew were were in that day, we suspected we were in for a good, if a little different show. And, unsurprisingly, we weren't wrong: never underestimate the ability of a cast to make things look like they've been rehearsed for for weeks on end when it fact they were thrown together in the hour between warm-up and curtain-up! Even without my favourite Carbucketty being on that day, I still managed to find an awful lot to smile about during the performance and an awful lot to cheer about too.
The show itself was still beautiful, even with a cast who were dropping like flies! We were lucky enough to be on the very front row of the stalls; prime position for Cats if ever there was one! Dean singing all of Quaxo's lines for him in The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball was actually rather beautiful, and I wish there was a recording of that out there; as I keep saying, Dean's voice is magical! During the Pekes and the Pollicles, John's Skimbleshanks became terrifically dismissive of Munkustrap and at one point we both swore we saw him shoo Dean away and mouth 'Go away Dean!' - we also both swore he added sound effects this time when he gunned down the Pekes! After the Interval, John - who was the master of audience work and improvisation every time he worked his way through the stalls - did an excellent job of blocking a girl's path and messing up all the ladies' hair at the ends of the row - before of course coming over and pawing at us to say hello. Another highlight of that particular performance was Chris Howell, whose star turn as Bustopher saw him greet us with an 'Ohhh ladies, helloooo' and his Gus the Theatre Cat milked the crowd like crazy with an exaggerated 'Listen to this!' mime before he did his impression of bringing on the ghost. His finest moment, however, came in Growltiger's Last Stand when he fell off the back of the sofa then popped back up again and went 'Tah-dah!' whilst a Mistoffelees-less crew made faces at the Siamese. The most memorable part of that matinee in Bristol, however, was the Finale. There was a man in the audience who was clearly suffering from some sort of mental health or developmental problems, we weren't sure, but he'd obviously really loved the show because we could hear him clapping and cheering all the way through. But the problem was that, in the Finale, he wanted to get up and dance with the cats and he somehow got away from his carer and made his way down the aisle, climbing up the central steps and onto the stage during Zoë Smith's (Demeter) bow. Of course no-one blamed him or mocked him, everyone was very understanding, but the looks on the other cast members' faces when it happened were truly priceless! John's facial expression, in particular, I seem to remember was a true gem! They just all froze, stage-smiles in place, still clapping away not knowing what to do. Zoë, thankfully, was one of the most together people in the whole company (and the dance captain as well) so she carefully escorted the man into the wings to be looked after whilst the Finale wrapped up. Dean's bow got missed out, but he still got a big cheer from us anyway.
My main memory of stage door after the matinee was that we only saw Chris, who told us he was heading out with his sore throat, and Peter Tyler (Alonzo). The reason Pete's appearance was so memorable to us was that he snuck out, still in his Alonzo make-up, to the pub across the road to get a plate of food; he just pulled a baseball cap down low, put on a pair of shades, pulled his scarf up to his nose and legged it! When he was sneaking back in he did a little pretend-stealth twist in the doorway and mimed 'Shhh!' at us - we couldn't stop laughing! And so, with that and a brief conversation with one of the techies (who all recognised us by this time) about the weather, we made our way back to the hotel to prepare for the evening show and of course the evening trip to stage door. Now we had a little more idea what we were in for, so we thought...of course, the theatre is full of surprises and we were about to learn that things can easily change even between a matinee and an evening as Chris Howell too succumbed to the bug and dropped out.
That night we were treated to another beautiful performance from a cast who still, even now, I think of as one of the best I've seen. Dean crossed his eyes at us in The Naming of Cats, much to our glee. He was still on singing-Mistoffelees'-lines-duty and in The Rum Tum Tugger he really played the comedy when he sang 'The Rum Tum Tugger is a terrible bore!' and gave Gary Watson's Tugger a good old smack on the chest. I must say, Andreas ('The Spanish Guy' who was still filling in as Mistoffelees) was growing on us by this point, but we still couldn't help but smile at his version of the pronunciation of 'Old Deuteronomy' - there's a reason Dean was taking most of his lines, poor guy! We couldn't help but laugh when he announced 'Odd Deuteronomus!' not laughing at him but rather because we both had this split second where we were totally convinced that the rest of the cast would back him up and sing 'Odd Deuteronomus' too, or at least make it sound more similar, so when they didn't we just couldn't keep it together at all!
Act Two kicked off, as it often did, with 50% of the theatre deciding to have a coughing fit in The Moments of Happiness. A song that is one of my favourites in the show and that I think is truly beautiful and it's so frustrating how little people appreciate it. And it seems Dean agrees because, whether it was subconscious on his part or not, Liz and I both saw him roll his eyes and raise his eyebrows as one person, then another, then another, then another cleared their throats seemingly in a timed round-robin system! It was even more absurd than usual and he really couldn't be blamed! Growltiger's Last Stand saw Dean and Pete continue the tradition of silliness amongst Growltiger's crew, with Pete making the parrot from Dean's costume attack him and Dean making it attack Pete right back as they both covered their faces. Pete continued the absurdity right through to the Finale by sliding right over onto his backside whilst doing the funky dance for his bow - he covered well but Liz and me were already giggling anyway. We recovered enough that, by the time the cast came through the stalls, we got high-fives from John McManus, whilst Andreas "That Spanish Guy" - grateful of us cheering him so supportively I suspect - ruffled our hair. And the fun wasn't even over - time for stage door!
The stage dooring went by in something of a blur and I'm very sorry to say I remember so little of it. I remember we were totally hyper after the performance and could not stop singing Mistoffelees the whole walk round to the back of the theatre. We were dancing too and acting like little kids basically. And we were all ready to try and get some new people...but then we chickened out and just stuck to the people we knew! After all, we were coming back in two weeks' time, and so many people were ill, it was probably better to be safe than sorry, we figured. As usual, John McManus was the first one down, full of hugs and complimenting us on being in fine cheering voice yet again. I'm pretty sure I must have reminded him to give Kevin my love and I'm pretty sure he promised he would, he said it would be easy enough as the two of them were in the same dressing room. He happily agreed to pictures with us, complimenting our outfits and generally being a sweetheart, and, as usual, he hugged his 'girls' senseless before wandering off to find Callum Nicol (Admetus/Macavity) as, if I remember rightly, Callum and John were driving back to London together that night. Once John disappeared into the night, Peter Tyler appeared. We were of course far too polite to mention his falling-over-backwards dance from the Finale and instead stuck to asking for a picture and telling him how much we enjoyed the show. Yet again, Pete's eyes were closed in one of the photographs - something else which was a long running joke between us. Little did we know it at the time, but these pictures would be the last time we ever saw Pete's lovely luscious long locks in all their glory, but more of that later...much, much later! The next person to appear was Dean. He was very popular with the autograph hunters once they realised he was in the cast - as with John before him, Dean had come straight over to us when he saw us at stage door and thus the other people at stage door realised from the way we were talking that these men were from the show. I can't tell you how nice it makes you feel when everyone at stage door is looking at you thinking 'Wow, look who's in with the cast!' Anyway, once Dean had signed a few programmes and described Munkustrap to a few people who didn't know which cat that was, we got to talking. We told him all about what we'd noticed over the course of the show and talked about poor Spanish Andreas trying to find his feet as Mistoffelees without knowing the language or the rest of the cast yet - Dean was very sympathetic, as were we, and he said it was good of us to try and give him an extra few cheers to make him feel loved.
That night when we got back to the hotel, I sat for a long time on my bed, looking through the colour brochure and the programme and talking with Liz about how lovely the show had been, but also about how sad it was to have so much fun and not get to see Kevin play Carbucketty or even talk to him at stage door at the end of it. We both had christened the melancholy post-show feeling as 'post-stage door syndrome' at this point, and we put our subdued moods down to that as we both curled up and turned off the lights for a long night of whispering back and forth across the room, laughing occasionally as we remembered some of the ridiculous antics our cast had got up to on stage and trying to remember as many details as possible. Neither one of us could settle to any music or books - all part of the post-stage door syndrome experience - and so all we could do was the talking. It was an excellent cure, but it didn't take away the sad feeling and it's hard to explain the strange quietness and stillness of a morning after a night like that one.
The next day, when we woke up to a cold but sunny morning in Bristol and went for a walk around the Bristol streets with my parents. We both noticed how strangely quiet and empty everywhere felt (especially with the sad sight of a Cats flyer getting blown away in the breeze), and nothing could match up to the vibrancy, noise and excitement of the Jellicle Ball - Cats does this to me more than any other show, perhaps because of the other world it draws you into and the sheer spectacle of it. This morning was the morning that the Stage Door Playlist was born, as we both needed to find some music we could listen to that matched the way we were feeling. I found it was a song called 'Tiny Star' which comforted me the most on the ride home. To this day, the memory of that morning is something that sends shivers down my spine - it was a powerful moment, when I think I realised that this was no longer just about Cats or getting photographs with cast members any longer, this was about a whole world with which I was fascinated and a whole group of people who I wholeheartedly wanted to support and wanted to see shine up on that stage. In many ways, I think the Bristol trip, and all the excitement and rituals and in-jokes that came from it, was the real beginning of my stage door story, as it was the first time I knew, with a conviction, there was no way on earth I could go back to just going to tours of Cats when they were in my home town and walking away without even stopping to thank one member of the cast at stage door. And yet, for all the bittersweet emotion that overcame us on that cool, crisp morning in Bristol, we were still excited and grateful, comforted as we were by the knowledge that we did in fact have tickets already lined up for another performance.
Sun, just a tiny star, a moon that's not so very far. So you must sleep and then, morning comes, dawn will break, the sun will shine again. Morning comes, and when you wake the sun will shine again...
- Eric Woolfson, Tiny Star
Our trip to Bristol on December 9th was perhaps even more eagerly anticipated given the fact that I was looking forward to a chance to see Kevin again. This time we drove down with my friend's mum, eager to see what she made of her first trip with us to stage door whilst also trying to describe Cats to her, who hadn't seen it ever before, not even on DVD. Other than that, most of the journey was spent with us in the backseat, giggling to each other and making up a long and eccentric tale of what might have happened when all the cast were ill and injured; a complete nonsense but it passed the time. When the familiar sight of Bristol loomed up ahead, both of us pressed our noses to the car windows and started trying to spot familiar places and try and work out which way it was to the theatre.
We took considerably less time settling into our hotel room this time, choosing instead to head straight down to the theatre in time for the end of the matinee. Liz marched boldly off in the wrong direction and, once I'd pulled her back the right way, we made it to the theatre in good time; the final chords of the Finale could just be heard through the stage door and we could hear the audience clapping away.
Once more we saw Alex Durrant, who stopped to say hello. He was still injured and he told us he wasn't on that night, which was a great shame as we did adore him as Bill Bailey. But given the long list of understudies last time, we weren't surprised that the cast wasn't quite back up to full strength yet, and at least we had some warning and could prepare ourselves before the show. Chris Howell was back in action however, and he was kind enough to stop and chat on his way out of the theatre. He remembered that he'd been sick last time we'd come and asked us if we were coming to the show that night - and we eagerly told him yes and that we couldn't wait to see him perform again as it wasn't the same without him. We were still standing there by the time he made his way back inside too, and, since he was carrying a large stack of chips from the chippy down the road (presumably to distribute amongst the cast) he grinned at us as he disappeared through stage door and went 'Oink oink!' and winked, which definitely made us chuckle.
Dean was the next to appear. He said hello as he made his way off down the street with a friend, but he only got a little way before he stopped and turned back, looking right at me with a smile. 'You know who's playing Misto tonight, don't you?'. At this point, he stood back to watch the chaos he knew he'd just caused with this information. My friend jumped on me as I stood staring at Dean in total, profound shock, not really processing this at all as quickly as my friend. 'Who?' I asked. Dean just smiled and said Trevor had sprained something in the matinee so Kevin was going on that night. He laughed as we spun about, shrieking and laughing on the pavement and scaring passers by.
As Dean left and we got our breath back, we could just make out the sound of a call-out backstage, listing that night's understudies. Admetus/Macavity was to be Phil Hogan (swing), Bill Bailey was Tim Hodges (swing), Bombalurina was Lauren Brooke (Cassandra), Carbucketty was to be Jean-Claude Pelletier (swing), Victoria was Amelie Munier (swing)...and, sure enough...'Mistoffelees will be played by Kevin McGuire...'. I could hardly believe my ears. We were just recovering from this, and discussing returning to the hotel, when the door opened one final time. Out pops Zak Nemorin. He waited for a bit, flashing a smile in our direction and hopping from foot to foot, and then Amelie Munier, followed him out. He grabbed her by the arm and started pulling her down the street to cries of 'Come on! Come on! Let's do this!' We waited, curious, for their return and eventually they came back, with Zak going 'Thankyooooouuuuuu Amelie!', making us even more curious than we had been before actually! And, you know, I don't know why, but somehow I feel this little episode sums up Zak Nemorin rather beautifully! Though to this day I don't know where in Bristol he and Amelie went! Anyway, with Zak safely back inside the theatre, we decided it was time for us to go and get ready for the show. Halfway back, we bumped into Dean again, on his way back to the theatre. 'You're not wandering the streets of Bristol on your own are you?!' - tribe protector mode activated! We assured him our hotel was just up the way and then asked him if he could say hello to John and Kevin for us and let them know we were in that night. He smirked at us both and said 'I suppose I could. If I see them!' He could never resist teasing us.
As ever, the show was stunning. Carbucketty nearly got hit on the head by Bustopher Jones' spoon, Zak's Mungjerrie was more hyper than ever, Kevin's Quaxo and John's Skimbleshanks had a major culture clash of dancing styles during their Scottish jig in Pekes and the Pollicles, with John then proceeding to go above and beyond in his massacre of the Pekes, threatening hanging before toppling to the floor, limbs all over the place. For this show, there was no Cassandra and Zak was doing a fabulous job of taking on her lines, but poor Lauren Brooke, who was usually Cassandra, was having problems with her microphone as Bombalurina, which was a shame. The Jellicle Ball was manic and sublime and I was having a fabulous time counting Kevin's conjuring turns in Quaxo's solo in the Jellicle Ball (17). When the lights came up for the interval, I was on such a high that I almost didn't notice a man walking off with a picture of Dean my friend had done to give him stuck to his shoe. Cue mad dash to collect it and much laughter between us. Then, as the cast made their way through the stalls for Act Two, the man himself Deankerstrap was scanning the audience looking for us, and when he spotted us all the way up towards the back, he gave us a massive wave with both his arms above his head - you know, like the 'finding your mate in a football crowd' wave? - before he headed back towards the stage. There were probably some confused people in that theatre after that, but we were absurdly happy at least. Act Two was fantastic as always. John's rendition of Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat was always a highlight and the more the tour went on, the more eccentric the performances got with so much flapping and exclaiming and insanity. And of course, John's manic 'Woohahahaha!' laughter running all the way through! I was, naturally, most looking forward to Mr.Mistoffelees. And you know what? Kevin McGuire was a truly amazing Misotffelees, and I'm not just saying that; the boy can dance. He was a joy to watch in the Mistoffelees dance solo. Don't get me wrong, Trevor Schoonraad was an incredible Misto too - and what a dancer! - but Kevin had a kittenishness about him which I just loved as it reminded me of Jacob Brent of the DVD production cast, a Mistoffelees against whom I measured all Mistoffeleeses! Kevin's performance of the dance solo was one of the highlights of the show for me for this reason and I was breathless by the end. He managed twenty-seven conjuring turns and he also added at least one extra cartwheel at the end of the routine just for good measure!
At stage door after the show, John was the first person down, as ever. He asked us if we enjoyed the show, which of course we had, and then he was distracted by Trevor Schoonraad tapping him on the shoulder. 'I meant to give you this earlier, I'm having a mental breakdown!' - poor Trevor was clearly not having a good day what with the injury and all and he'd neglected to give John the Cadbury's Fruit & Nut bar he'd bought for him earlier! John thanked him then turned his attention back to us. He offered to pose for more photographs; 'Both of you or just you and me?' he asked my friend, promptly answering his own question by pulling her over and posing, grinning madly at the camera. In amidst the final-night-in-Bristol chaos, we battled to be heard in our conversation with John - what with roadies wheeling trunks and bits of set and smoke machines through the middle of our group it was difficult, and of course we were trying to look out for the rest of the cast coming down too. At one point, we added to the confusion by spotting Peter Tyler emerging from stage door...with a new haircut! As my jaw dropped, my friend yelped 'He's got a quiff!' much to John's bafflement and we both burst out laughing. Once we'd pulled ourselves together, we got back to talking to John, who told us he was waiting for Carrie Sutton (Tantomile) as - guess what? - he was going back to London that night! Because I think the thing we heard John say more than anything over the course of the tour was that he had to get back to London that night! Anyway, this particular night I think he was more desperate than ever to get out of the cold and back to the capital, as at regular intervals he kept going 'Come on Carriiiiiie!' as he was getting cold and impatient and when she finally emerged she was wearing a lovely pair of fluffy earmuffs, which meant she couldn't hear him calling her; I swear, you couldn't make up the slapstick stuff that would happen on the average night at Cats stage door! At this point, Trevor Schoonraad appeared again, still clearly having a bad day as he wheeled his suitcase between the two of us and said 'Let me just wheel my coffin past.' - poor Schoony! As Trevor disappeared, we spotted Zak, who was heading off in the direction of the pub. 'See you soon!' he called cheerily, grinning knowingly as we yet again forgot to react and were left going 'Can we have a..pic...no...maybe next time...ok...' to the empty space where Zak had just been!
It was around this time that Kevin finally came out of stage door and I promptly began jumping up and down, grinning like crazy and doing a little tap dance on the pavement. 'IT'S YOU!' I called over everyone's heads and Kevin laughed. I talked to him about seeing him as Mistoffelees (and about seeing the show without him and how sad I'd been when he wasn't there.) I told him I thought he was the perfect Mistoffelees and he thanked me for that. After we posed for pictures, a friend of ours from the website we ran for the cast turned up with a scrapbook to show to Kevin. She was from Portugal and she had got her hands on pictures taken backstage by a professional photographer whilst the show was over there. Kevin was fascinated. He was particularly amused by one of Gary Watson (Rum Tum Tugger) and called him over to come and look. He didn't seem too happy with how he looked in the pictures coz he winced and said 'God, when was that taken?!' As Kevin continued to talk with our Portuguese friend, Liz and I talked to Gary Watson. He remembered us well and, as he was so close with Kevin, he knew a lot about us anyway, so he was well aware of how happy I was to see Kevin play Mistoffelees that night. 'Oh wow, you haven't seen Kev play Misto before have you? Were you excited?' He was so sweet to us, but he had to keep asking us to repeat ourselves - 'I've got my hat pulled down, I can't hear a thing!' We asked him for pictures, some of which were blurred because of the flash, at which Gary blinked and just went 'Bright flash!' before posing for another picture. John came back by this point and he told me with very sweet sincerity 'Kevin will be down in a minute...OH! He's THERE!' (because John is both absurd and precious he hadn't noticed Kevin yet!) After more hugs, he bid us a goodbye and a Merry Christmas too, as we wouldn't be seeing them again until February. But as John and Kevin were disappearing in their separate directions, Dean emerged. Dean was the last to come out, unusually for him, and he was in a rush so we quickly gave him the drawing - and he recognised it as being us with him in Sunderland by the clothes he was wearing! We told him how someone had nearly run away with it which made him laugh, and then he rushed off, calling out that he would see us again soon - of that the whole cast seemed confident!